1. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Fallacies overlay title metabunk.

    I just read an article by Maarten Boudry, where he argues that the practice of spotting and pointing out fallacies is over-used in the skeptical community.

    Spotting fallacies has long been popular in skeptical movements, but personally I've never had much time for them. There's so many fallacies, often with non-descriptive names and unclear descriptions, and it seems more like a game of "fit the fallacy to the argument" than actual productive critical thinking.

    There's really only one fallacy worth remembering - the one that encompasses all the others. The non sequitur.

    Non sequitur is latin (for "it does not follow"), but it's now english, commonly understood to mean a statement that does not follow from what came before - often just an odd utterance by the socially inept. In logic and philosophy it more formally means a conclusion or belief that is not justified by (or does not follow) the premises.

    Take the famous ad hominem fallacy. Attacking the person instead of the argument. A plain reading of this would tell us that we must judge arguments on their own merits, not on the character, status, or history of the person giving the argument. Yet in the real world if we are to pit arguments of a chronic liar who has tried to hurt us, against a wise and reliable friend, then we pick the latter with great justification. It does not follow that any two arguments are equally worthy of consideration.

    Like most people, I strive to reach correct conclusions. I know that examples of these fallacies are real, but I don't use the classification of arguments according to fallacies as a tool. I simply ask "does it follow?". The answer is often complicated and messy to resolve, but I never felt I was missing anything by failing to check the hundreds of possible fallacies in the list.

    So Maarten Boudry's article rang a bell for me. While it might not be time to "get rid of fallacy theory" in its entirety, it may well be time to rein it in and acknowledge that it's more of an interesting classification scheme for non sequiturs than an actual aid to critical thinking.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2017
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  2. tinkertailor

    tinkertailor Senior Member

    I sometimes feel like when people bring up logical fallacies in this kind of context it devolves into off-topic rambles about what the fallacy is, explaining what the Latin means, proving that X person did indeed make Y logical fallacy, and it doesn't do anything. It's like bringing up a spelling error that the other person made: more of a boast that you know fancy words and correct spellings and less about the topic which you're supposed to be discussing. I guess sometimes discussing the non sequitors can create non sequitors, too.
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  3. Sharon Hill

    Sharon Hill New Member

    I also agree. These are philosophical discussions, which are fine for some people, but not effective across a broad section of the population.

    My goal is to reach just regular folks with an explanation that makes sense. That's a hard thing to achieve and I am not very good at it but that's my goal. To point out logical fallacies, especially by name, is a sure way to get folks to tune you out. It is a fallacy that learning a list of fallacies is inoculation, similar to the idea that we just need to fill up the empty glass/mind with more info and they will suddenly "get it". Ridiculous.

    I think we can demonstrate pretty well that the methods of formal skeptical advocacy have not been significantly effective in the population. New strategies that utilize the evolving technology that people rely on for daily life should be where we should try to maximize efforts. Magazines? Same old formats? Talking heads on documentaries? Explicitly pointing out how you are wrong? Not effective.
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  4. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    That reminds me of when Stephen Hawking was writing A Brief History of Time, about which he said:
    Most people don't understand equations, so if you use an equation in an explanation then people will either not be able to understand it at all, or it will add just enough mental burden to the explanation that they will not make the effort.

    (Side note, on a slightly higher level I have similar feelings about Greek letters in formula. Perhaps it's useful to someone, but to me it's just extra work figuring out how to type and pronounce them, and to most people it's just Greek.)

    For me two memories spring to mind, the first is Dr Steven Novella on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe fairly recently. The SGU podcast is a group discussion between Steven, his brothers Bob Novella and Jay Novella, Evan Bernstein, and (relatively new) Cara Santa Maria. Steven is a Neurologist, super intelligent, and a major figure in the skeptical movement. The other contributors are all very bright, and knowledgeable in various fields, but from my perspective Steven is intellectually head and shoulders above them. He seems to know lots about everything, and has a more rapid and deeper understand of whatever is being discussed than the other hosts.

    Recently they were discussing some article, pointing out why it was wrong, and Steven asked the others what logical fallacies it contained. They were initially stumped, then someone (Jay, I think) said "non sequitur", and Steven patiently explained that all fallacies are non sequiturs (as the conclusion does not follow from the premises and logic used in the argument). This did not help them much, so then Steven went to to point out, and name, the fallacies being used.

    I have great respect for Steven Novella, he's perhaps the person in the current Skeptical Movement that I admire the most. But if your own co-hosts of many years on a Skeptical podcast can't name the fallacies, then what's the point of naming them for the general population? Is it really useful to sub-classify some false choice as the Fallacy of Relative Privation if even for your fellow skeptics it's in one ear and out the other?

    The other memory is from when I was writing an article for CSI's Skeptical Briefs about Metabunk's role in solving the Chilean Infrared UFO case. I wrote the first Draft and the editor, Ben Radford, asked if I could expand it so it "more broadly looks at the logical fallacies we see in these and other cases, where believers have an echo chamber and assume that if their experts can't figure it out, or have ruled X out, then it can't be X, whereas the original analysis may be incompetent--as skeptics point out. "

    So what I added was this (excuse the long quote, but the context is important):
    The naming of the naming of the fallacies just felt redundant. Other than the argument from authority I still had to look them up even after I'd explained exactly where they went wrong. It was like I was saying "here's what went wrong, and, by the way, nerdy skeptics would classify that as an argument from false premises, go look it up."

    Of course my article was written for skeptics, not a general audience. But I'm a skeptic, @Sharon Hill is a skeptic, Steven's brothers are skeptics. Exactly who is this semantic analysis of fallacy-fitting actually for?
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2017
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  5. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    intellectual and pseudo intellectual snobs. :)


    I think there is a big difference between skeptics and debunkers. Debunkers can be actual skeptics, and skeptics can be debunkers, but people aren't always both.
    Some skeptics (and sometimes [pseudo]debunkers) just like to show off that they are smarter than "the masses". They have no interest in reaching or teaching the general populace. They only care about "being right". It's an ego trip.

    People like you and @Sharon Hill (from what I've seen) aren't like that. You care more about
    tamping down actual bunk, than your egos.

    I think the study of logical fallacies is fine in the right forum. It can help debunkers, and the general populace learn to be better critical thinkers. Learn what thinking traps they should be wary of within themselves.

    But I agree, that bringing it up when in discussion with a specific person is counter productive in most cases and when it could be brought up (not in casual Facebook or Twitter comments) - to point out where their thinking is wrong- common simple language should be used.

    I really like Novella's skeptic work, but ultimately he works for Yale. So by association that means he is an intellectual, possibly pseudo-intellectual snob ;)
    Should I look up which logical fallacy that statement is, or is it fine that I know it's bad critical thinking?
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2017
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  6. Sharon Hill

    Sharon Hill New Member

    That's exactly right. Skeptics are the audience. I really have grown to despise preaching to the choir. In general, it's a waste of time and makes you a less empathetic person. I'm having trouble even reading Skeptical Inquirer these days and it's why the "skeptical movement" is a failure. If you move in your own elevated circles, you just go round and round in the same place.
  7. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    You jest, but I would avoid such language. I don't think Novella looks down on people who can't deconstruct the fallacies in an argument. It's just something he himself enjoys doing, and something he (to a degree) thinks is a useful framework for looking at things, and maybe communication. It's also shorthand in-speak for communicating with (some) other skeptics.
  8. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    I don't think I'd go quite that far, but I think they (or we) certainly could do better. It's complicated though.
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  9. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    I don't jest really. I was showing a logical fallacy.

    And I think in his forum, (your example) his use of picking apart fallacies with his crew is fine.

    I guess I should have added that I see Novella as an actual debunker who cares about tamping down bunk, more than as a 'skeptic'. My fault for not making that more clear.
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  10. Svartbjørn

    Svartbjørn Senior Member

    Honestly, calling out and pointing out logical fallacies has been really useful.... as long as that doesnt become the -entire- discussion. Americans, from my experience, arent really trained in critical thinking in general... we get our news from CNN, Fox, MSNBC etc. Fox and MSNBC have become a hotbed of adhom and strawman arguments.. people that thrive on watching those programs also pick up and use those same arguments (most often verbatim) or the same type of logic to argue their point. A lot of people dont even know what an adhom is (personally, Id never heard of it before I joined MB). Id always considered it rude or "bad form" to attack a person or their character instead of picking apart what they were saying. Maybe thats just me though.

    With that said:

    I agree with a lot of this Mick, but at the same time its a double edged sword... Take AJ, for example.. anyone with any common sense knows he's a snake oil salesman... that he's blown things out of proportion or flat out lied (like the DNA stealing iPhone), but that doesnt mean that none of what he says lacks merit. We've run into a LOT of people, over the years, that have been debunked over and over (Max comes to mind) but still raise valid.. although usually misguided... points. I dont want people getting into the habit of just automatically dismissing someone just because they're full of hot hair, without thinking.. and its easy to fall into that logical fallacy as well. (TLDR, I agree with the majority of your paragraph Mick, just not in totality).

    Like with just about everything, addressing and calling out logical fallacies needs to be done in moderation and used as a way to further the discussion and in a way that educates the person using said fallacy. If you're new to being a skeptic or new to debunking, or just new to online discussion or any kind of interpersonal debate, its useful to have someone point out those errors. Circular logic is an easy trap to fall into.. as is present year, straw man and gish gallop (dunno if thats TECHNICALLY a logical fallacy or not).

    Ive run into situations where people rely on their personal experience to guide their perception and think that thats the ONLy way it is (Ive done it twice in this post alone), because its easy to relate and tell the story. Where picking out logical fallacies begins to fall apart, is when thats the ONLY method of discussion someone has at their disposal. Posts (especially on Youtube and Facebook) where the only thing an opposing party says is "Oh, nice adhom dude.. way to attack someone instead of arguing against their point" and ends the comment... nothing further to add. They basically used pointing out an ad hom AS an Ad Hom.

    Think Im rambling a bit now (long week) so Ill end this on a personal note. Honestly Id love to see a political debate where these fallacies were called out by the moderator(s) and squashed. Force the opponents to stay on topic rather than Galavanting off onto whatever platform they wish to push that night. I dunno.. maybe its me, but I enjoy seeing fallacies pointed out in discussion and debate as long as it adds to the discussion rather than being used as a smack on the nose with a rolled up news paper to feel superior.

    Edit: Ive read over this a dozen times, so if it seems rambly or missing the point, please feel free to edit or snip where needed to streamline it.
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  11. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    lol then 97.2% of the debate time would be the moderator talking or dead silence as the debater tried to think of how to fix what they are trying to say. :)
  12. Svartbjørn

    Svartbjørn Senior Member

    Then that's perfect. It's force a massive change in political debated. Clinton and Trump spent more time assassinating the others character than they did debating. We see how that turned out. Trump was brilliant in the fact that he watched Fox News, learned what the vast majority of his voters wanted to hear and adopted that same methodology. Had the moderator been allowed to moderate, forced both of them to stay on topic, not Gish gallop and rely on straw man AND ad home, then the debated would have been different. The results may or may not have changed but the tactics and discussion would have.
  13. NoParty

    NoParty Senior Member

    Too be fair, polls revealed that Trump lost each of those three debates,
    and likewise, lost the popular vote by 2.85 million voters.

    Only the perfect storm of the convolution of an outdated Electoral College + some Russian-sponsored Wikileaks
    + a mind-blowing (and now known to be wholly unsubstantive) anti-Clinton pronouncement by James Comey, 11 days before election day, got Trump within a puncher's chance of the White House...not brilliance.
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  14. Svartbjørn

    Svartbjørn Senior Member

    I agree.. Im not saying he won, what Im saying is Trump was brilliant in the way he used the tactics he used to attack Clinton in the same way FOX News did. He wasnt "toeing the party line" but mimicking FOX's fallacy approach. Clinton, on the other hand, DIDNT use the same tactics that MSNBC used, she toed the party line and stuck to her talking points, then threw in a few of her own ad hom jabs. She came across more as "another politician" while Trump came across more like a regular joe.

    If, on the other hand, ALL parties involved would have been required to stick to the topic at hand, kept from making ad hom attacks, building straw man arguments etc.. the debates would have been MUCH more intellectual (in theory) and everyone would have had to change tactics to match. That would have showcased how flexible and intelligent the debaters were rather than who could come up with the zippiest punch line. It also would have rendered Clinton's talking points moot. Thats all Im saying.
  15. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    In theory, perhaps. But then what would they be debating exactly? They would end up making the case that their argument was not a straw man or ad hom. Or that their opponent's argument WAS a straw man. Or that ad hom attacks are actually just educating the public about the character flaws of the person they are voting for.

    And what's the moderator going to do: "I'm sorry Mr Rubio, that's an etymological masked-man fallacy, please restate in the next thirty seconds"?

    Having the candidates "required to stick to the topic at hand, kept from making ad hom attacks, building straw man arguments" would be great. But the first one is already a requirement, largely ignored. The two fallacies, ad-hom and straw man, are too nuanced and subjective to police in real time if politicians are actively trying to dance around acceptable language.
  16. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    plus I think most politicians would just say "No thanks, I'm good" because the viewing audience has no idea what a masked man fallacy is anyway. And political debates aren't about winning a debate. They are about winning votes.
  17. Astro

    Astro Active Member

    I have to say I am guilty of this in a massive way. I could fill a lengthy post with all the "reasons" and excuses for why I do it, but at the end of the day it's counter-productive to the skeptical movement. I am frequently guilty of "argumentum verbosium" when "debunking" on youtube. It's not just a matter of ego though, it's also born of a desire for revenge. Over the years I've encountered pseudoscience on youtube and elsewhere, I've frequently been told or asked "why can't you prove it with math then" when explaining a given concept.

    An example from a few years ago would be the Hubble Space Telescope images of comet ISON which were tracked on the background stars rather than the comet itself, resulting in the comet's motion blurring its shape into a streak. Hubble's orbital motion around the earth during the course of the exposures produced a significant amount of parallax which "bent" that streak in a way easily seen in the raw individual images. The final processed image released by the Hubble team did not show this because of the way they processed and stacked the images together. Conspiracy theorists on YouTube and elsewhere latched onto the raw images as proof that "NASA was hiding the truth" and that the comet was either in 3 pieces or was surrounded by UFOs or was itself a UFO, etc.

    I created a few videos illustrating the comet's motion over the course of the Hubble images based on Hubble's orbit and showed that the shape was expected given those factors, and I honestly should have left it at that. Instead, my videos were cited by someone at STScI who was then linked to by an NBC article, so before I knew it my videos on the subject became some of the most viewed on my channel. The response was not entirely positive though, in fact many people openly mocked my explanation of the shape as being caused by parallax from Hubble's orbit. Of course, those responses were not rational and I should have just ignored them, but it bugged me that one person in particular challenged me to prove my claim mathematically. The notion that I might not be up to the task bothered me, and yes, it wounded my ego.

    The person making the challenge had no idea what would actually be involved in such a computation. He had simply taken a protractor to the shape of the comet's streak and declared that because he measured the angle of the streak to be "120 degrees" that I needed to prove that there should have been "120 degrees of parallax." Easy, right? Of course the actual angular displacement was sub-arcsecond in scale if I recall correctly, but my attempts to explain why the amount of parallax was not equal to the 120 degree angle he had measured fell on deaf ears. Again, I should have simply explained how to measure the magnitude of the parallax effect based on the scale of the image (incredibly small at Hubble's long focal length) and left it at that. But I didn't.

    It bothered me deeply that he had laid down a "challenge" that I had not met, even though he did not understand that in order to calculate it you would need to not only calculate the comet's position relative to the sun and the earth's position relative to the sun, you would also need to calculate Hubble's position in orbit around earth and then apply that position to compute the parallax to translate the geocentric coordinates of the comet into "Hubble-centric" coordinates. In the end the calculation "from scratch," even under simplified conditions assuming a perfectly parabolic orbit for the comet and assuming no perturbations of Hubble, would be so lengthy that no one was really going to bother to read it in detail, let alone try to poke holes in it, even my challenger. It took me months to work out all of the math.

    I am an amateur astronomer with a background in science and enough foundation in mathematics to rise to the challenge, but only barely. And that's what had bugged me from the beginning, not that the person making the demand might be right about the claim, but the notion that I might not be smart enough to answer it mathematically. It angered me that he was waving a flag of victory over the argument for about a week back when my videos came out, so posting a lengthy spreadsheet detailing every calculation starting from raw orbital elements wasn't just a way to feed my ego, it was a way to get revenge at someone I felt had initially "bested me" in an online argument by throwing down an unreasonable and unnecessary goalpost. It felt really good to "rub that in his face," even though so much time had passed since the initial argument took place that it's entirely possible he never even bothered to return to my channel to see my response. In the end the only thing I really accomplished was proving what a pompous jerk I really am. I never heard from him again, and when I sent the lengthy math post to a third party who had reposted this person's challenge (believing it to be a valid refutation of my initial videos) he simply replied "this was ages ago, why are you bothering me, go away."

    This same pattern gets repeated with surprising frequency on my channel. Everything from "the moon looks tilted, it shouldn't look like that" to "SDO's eclipse seasons are unexplained by science since it can't be the earth passing in front of the sun" (for those unfamiliar, SDO is a sun-observing geosynchronous satellite and it does pass into earth's shadow daily during two different "seasons" lasting a few weeks each year). Yes, being able to work out the math from scratch to make useful predictions about what will happen in future observations of a phenomenon is a powerful tool. I know someone who I managed to convert away from "SDO conspiracies" because I presented the math and used it to predict future events with the SDO eclipse season. But using that math as a weapon to throw it in the face of a conspiracy theorist "physicist" who claims it can't be the earth doesn't really serve to help most lay people who are on the fence about the issue. It just makes me look pompous and it makes the conspiracy theorist look relate-able, maybe even sympathetic. The worst part is, I don't really care all that much. I've learned a great deal myself by meeting all of these challenges by engaging in complete mathematical verbosity. And it's felt good to "get revenge" against those who claim I don't know what I'm talking about. It's more for my benefit than anyone else's, but part of me does feel a tinge of guilt about it. I've probably driven away more people from science and skepticism than I've won over, so on the whole it's probably a net loss. Maybe I am just terminally arrogant, or maybe I'm just too insecure about my capabilities and thus I feel the need to retaliate with things I know my opponents will never begin to understand, I'm not qualified to diagnose myself. Whatever my flaws are, they're unlikely to change now or in the near future. But I guess it helps to at least be aware of them.

    I will say that I have picked a friend to moderate the comments on my channel and delete the trolls on sight, before I can see the comments and start responding to them. It's helped me stop feeding the trolls, and it's helped me not waste as much of my time calculating things no sane person would bother doing when a dozen different programs already give the necessary results instantly. I can't change my flawed character, but perhaps I can suppress the desire for revenge by silencing the trolling.
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  18. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    sounds like a good plan.
    I agree with you actually, that if a bunk statement or misrepresentation is put out and allowed to remain in published form, it sort of has to be countered. Otherwise viewers will walk away thinking the bunkster got the last word and that word is correct. But it's probably ok just to respond with a simple "that's not true", because as you pointed out, chances are no one would know if your math is correct anyway :)

    I personally think it's ok to give the complicated answer provided you first state the answer in a simplified form other people can understand and you if say it in a non condescending way.
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  19. Svartbjørn

    Svartbjørn Senior Member

    Thats what the moderator's there for. Just like in Highschool, University and College debate, you get a list of possible subjects and you have to form your debate based on your knowledge and research of those topics. If you drift off topic, or build strawman arguments etcetc, the moderator stops you mid flow and redirects you back on topic. THe first few debates are going to be a bitch.. there's no doubt about it... itll take a STRONG moderator and someone with known impartiality (like Anderson Cooper for example) to maintain good control over the debate.

    THe issue is that the debates will be boring (like they are in school) and the ratings will drop, which means there'll be a lot of pressure from networks blah blah blah. Itll have its problems, and its flaws but itll be head and shoulders better than what we have now.

    Which again, will require a strong moderator, and one thats going to be able to push back and hold the politicians in check.

    Yes, thats exactly what the mod will do.. give a quick definition of what the fallacy is, so that the listening and viewing public at home understand why it was done and have the respondent restate etc.

    Again, we're back to the moderator not moderating. If the mods are allowed to moderate rather than the TV stations vying for views it wouldnt be so ignored.

    Yes, they're difficult.. which is why youd need a really good moderator. Itd start out with TV personalities but eventually, if the format is continually pushed for and demanded, youll end up either with personalities that know their shit and are hard on the debaters OR you end up with actual debate mods/referees that know what they're doing.

    Right now its basically just a thought experiment or a pipe dream but it has the potential to work if its done. You guys do it here ALL the time, you're GREAT at it. You're good at explaining the fallacy, what it is, why its causing a problem and do what needs to be done with the post. We have the rules readily available for everyone up front so everyone knows what the expectations are. The same could be done for debates.. the rules are posted on the TV Station websites or available online (just like the thousands of rules for Football and Baseball) for the viewing public to talk and debate afterwards. The IMPORTANT part is that the viewers engage in discussion after the debate and then start sticking to those same rules when they debate amongst themselves. Itd raise the bar across the board...again, all in theory.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2017
  20. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    CNN shill, greenscreen disappearing nose guy? Have you been drinking ;)
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  21. Svartbjørn

    Svartbjørn Senior Member

    Of course.. just not the purple kool-aide
  22. skephu

    skephu Senior Member

  23. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

  24. Rory

    Rory Senior Member

    I'm partial to a bit of ad hominem myself - but then I suppose it depends on the subject. If we're just talking cold facts, science, math, then person and personality doesn't really come into it, only whether it's right or wrong. But if the subject's say spirituality, morality, literature, love, etc, then I feel it's not only fine but probably required to know something about the mind behind the words.

    I do find most don't agree with this, though, and tend to go down the 'pointing out the fallacy' route. Which is frustrating.
  25. Steve Funk

    Steve Funk Active Member

    "Data from Cold Creek show a substantial decline in the abundance of numerous forms of aquatic life over the last few years. There have also been instances of high aluminum content in water samples from this creek. It must have been caused by a secret government geoengineering program." (This is an approximate quote from a verbal presentation.) I will assume the data are correct. The biologist, Francis Mangels, has a masters degree in the subject. IMHO, the most concise way to summarize the counterargument is that he is using Argument from Ignorance, a logical fallacy. Follow up that by pointing out that Cold Creek is an urban interface watershed, subject to urban pollution sources such as lawn and road chemicals, septic tank overflow, a major sewage spill, +ca. 2005, leaching of road oïl from paved roads during early rains, agricultural diversions from new age farmers using old water rights, and increasing residential construction. But argument from ignorance is a good three word summary that people will remember.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2017
  26. Rory

    Rory Senior Member

    Doesn't this bring it right back to Mick's original point? That labelling it a logical fallacy may lead to tangential arguments, semantics, and be seen as confrontational, while simply saying, "while the data may be true, the conclusion that it's a secret government program 'doesn't necessarily follow'" seems both more to the point, and more likely to move things in the right direction.

    And what's the right direction? Well...they either agree that it doesn't logically follow, but provide some connecting evidence; or agree that it doesn't logically follow, but stick to their guns and say they believe it anyway; or say something completely mental, and you can see what you're dealing with and casually remove yourself from the discussion.

    But at least you're not caught in an argument about logical fallacies with someone now understandably on the defensive/offensive, and totally off the point.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2017
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  27. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Or even better, pointing out that there might be other reasons for high aluminum content in individual readings. Or point out that the aluminum content is not actually that high, since there's aluminum everywhere. Or point out that subsequent testing showed normal levels of aluminum.

    Saying its "an argument from ignorance" sounds like saying "Magels is stupid". Then if you look it up you might find it means "Mangels is saying it's geoengineering because it has not been proven not to be, but he's wrong because there's insufficient information to make that determination". And the you are just lost in a pointless semantic argument.
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  28. Whitebeard

    Whitebeard Senior Member

    There are times when I find it nearly impossible NOT to use the old Ad Hom. attack, even thought I do try to avoid it wherever possible. I know a couple of David Icke worshippers, and when they are quoting the words of the self proclaimed 'son of god', a guy who links EVERYTHING that happens on Earth to shapeshiftng lizard aliens who are beaming us into a holographic reality from their hollow moon space ship, as the real truth I find it very hard to avoid playing the man as well as the ball (to use a football - soccer - term)
  29. Rory

    Rory Senior Member

    What's your basis/justification for "playing the man" in this case? Beyond, I imagine, "he says things that sound mad (to me)"?

    (Genuine question, probably leading to some sort of point.)
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2017
  30. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    I think it's sometimes valuable to point out things about the person making the claims - particularly if whoever is quoting that person is making an argument that the person (say, Alex Jones) is trustworthy, or an expert, or has no reason to lie. Here you could point out that Jones has repeatedly been wrong and changed his story, he is not an expert in anything, and he does have a reason to lie as he makes millions from scaremongering and selling dietary supplements to counteract chemtrails, erectile disfunction, and nuclear fallout.

    In that case you are actually directly addressing something that the believer has brought up as evidence. They are not simply repeating a collection of evidence and logic that someone else made that can stand alon. They are bringing up the person themselves as evidence.

    Now you've got a couple of fallacy-related options in addressing that. You can point out that it's an argument from authority - which isn't helpful, as it makes the assumption that Jones is an authority but for logical reasons that's not enough.

    You can also point out it's an argument from false authority, which means you are kind of engaging in ad-hom, and also kind of implies that argument from authority isn't really a fallacy. And then someone could argue you are using a fallacy yourself, and then you could invoke the fallacy fallacy, and then what's point of bringing up all these fallacies?

    The study of fallacies is very interesting, and might help with critical thinking. But I don't think it's very useful as a communication tool.
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  31. Whitebeard

    Whitebeard Senior Member

    Its in cases when they are banging on a about false flags, the NWO, hollow moons etc and keep saying 'David Icke says...' and using the fact that Icke has said something at one of his 9 hour live rants, or penned it in one of his hideously over priced vanity published books as the ultimate proof of their conspiracy, whilst dismissing everything you say to counter the point as 'the lies of science' / 'propaganda of the mainstream media' / (insert conspiracy trope here). At that point I normally point out that most of, if not all Ickes ideas are deemed crackpot by most other conspiracy theorists, and are in the main gleaned from the pages of pulp sci-fi or ripped off and 'turbo charged' from other CT exponents. I'm not calling Icke crazy as such, just that when the guy is spouting so much stuff that is firmly in the 'batshit' category, everything he says must be treated with a pinch of salt big enough to grit the M25 in a cold snap.
  32. Rory

    Rory Senior Member

    But I guess it's not "batshit" to them?
  33. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Well you are going to get some people who are all the way down the rabbit hole, but most people have a limit. The question you might raise is: "If you believe David Icke about covert geoengineering, why don't you also believe him about the Queen being a shape-shifting child-sacrificing interdimensional lizard/human hybrid?"
  34. Rory

    Rory Senior Member

    Agree to that. I guess for an ad hominem to be effective, there has to be some agreement between both parties that the source for a quote or some information is fallible, in a way that is pertinent to the point at hand.
  35. Greg Simay

    Greg Simay New Member

    The ad hominem fallacy is a good one for illustrating the strengths and limitations of deductive logic. On the one hand, it can be helpful to understand that we can't know for a certainty that a proposition is true (or false) based solely on the merits of the person. There are occasions when we can assess an argument independently of the arguer, and it would be lazy of us not to do so.

    On the other hand, we often live in a world of probabilities and limited information. We don't have to time and energy to independently chase down the facts behind every assertion, even for those issues that are important to us. Certainty eludes us and so we don't know for sure that John Doe's giving us misinformation, but we may well be justified in believing there's at least a 90% chance that he is. And that's good enough to allow us to decide to move on and not waste any more time on the claims of John Doe.

    What may be more helpful on a day-to-day basis is an awareness of psychological dispositions that can lead us away from proper reasoning: things like normalcy bias, survivor's bias or an unawareness of how exponential growth can sneak up on you. Taleb's "Fooled By Randomness" is an excellent guide to some of the pitfalls we encounter when assessing probabilities and reasoning from them.
  36. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Or in some cases it might prompt people to look more critically at some of John Doe's other claims. For example, if someone was to find that Dane Wigington claims that modern jet engines can't make contrails, and the finds that modern jet engines actually CAN make contrails, then it's going to (hopefully) make them question other claims that he makes
  37. Greg Simay

    Greg Simay New Member

    Point well taken.
  38. Law Skinner

    Law Skinner New Member

  39. marrowmonkey

    marrowmonkey Member

    Argument from authority to some extent is a necessity, you always have to find some common ground from where you can make your deductions. If you push it far enough you end up with cogito ergo sum sort of things and Gödel famously showed that even mathematicians need to take some things on faith, etc.

    It is considered too cumbersome/difficult/time consuming to deduce even the "elementary" math we teach in schools from the axioms, so we rely on the authority of books and teachers (and "common sense"). In other subjects it just gets harder. To provide some fairly conclusive evidence for the existence of the Higgs Boson you need a 9 billion USD accelerator to begin with. Most of us, even physicist, will just have to trust the experts when they say they found it.

    If your uncle is saying the theory of relativity is a scam, do you trust him or the majority of physicists saying otherwise? I suppose you try and convince yourself by making different experiments (inevitably based on a lot of assumptions you have learned from other authoritative sources), but it is simply to cumbersome and time consuming for most.

    We are all forced to take most of what we know on faith from different authorities. It's the only rational and practical approach ("informal logic"). (Although that doesn't mean that they are always right). I think we should be more up front with this unfortunate reality and schools ought spend more time trying to convince people why they should believe what they are being taught (scientific method) at the expense of some of the facts they will have forgotten the next year anyway.

    I believe conspiracy theories sometimes come from loosing faith in these authorities, if you start pulling the treads the things we think we know start to unravel. If you don't see a reason why you should believe what your teacher told you about evolution (i.e. the scientific method) but rather just see it as gospel from a preacher, then there is really no reason why you couldn't replace that preacher with another who teaches creationism, or something even less orthodox in another church in the future.

    So, yes, while there certainly is a time and place for formal logic and the study of fallacies and such, it makes little or no sense to solely rely on it in informal discussion between laymen.

    I do think it is useful to recognise many common fallacies though. Call me paranoid but I too often get the disturbing feeling that quite a few people use fallacies deliberately, in a very Machiavellian way, to spread disinformation and derail debate that isn't going in their desired direction. But that just makes it even more counterproductive to follow their bait down the rabbit hole, it just takes attention further away from the core issue.
  40. edby

    edby Member

    I tend to agree that appealing to logical form may not be useful in actual arguments with Flatearthers. But it can be helpful in analysing their arguments, and understanding why they think that way.

    An argument not mentioned above (I think) is pari ratione or 'by equal reasoning'. Your opponent argues 'B is true because A'. So you say 'but by equal reasoning C is true because of A, but you definitely don't agree with C. So what's the difference? It forces people to re-examine the arguments they are using. In this case, perhaps the opponent will revisit his or her argument for B. Perhaps A is not a good reason after all.

    Another reason for logic failure is that even very simple forms of reasoning require a limited attention span, and many people just don't have that.

    For example here I argued:
    My emphasis.
    Last edited: May 18, 2018